NEW YORK: Green products launched by mainstream brands can suffer when flagging up their eco-friendly credentials using visual cues at the point of purchase, according to a study published in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR).

Stacy Wood and Stefanie Robinson (North Carolina State University) and Morgan Poor (San Diego State University) discussed this subject in their paper, The efficacy of green package cues for mainstream versus niche brands: How mainstream green brands can suffer at the shelf.

Their analysis focused on home pesticides, as the category features “products that frequently are used or purchased by consumers across a wide range of demographic and socio-economic variables”.

More specifically, the authors partnered with a “large, multinational company that recently had introduced a green line of products into the competitive space” – and drew on data from 565 consumers.

And they compared a new green product from its mainstream partner’s “target” brand versus a niche brand only selling green products and another mainstream player that had launched an environmentally-friendly line in the “naturals segment”.

One insight: “Choice share for the target brand in the no-cue condition (i.e., the standard packaging) was 43.6%, but this decreased to 33.0% in the green-cue condition (i.e., when an environmentally friendly cue was added).”

Moreover, the research confirmed the study’s hypothesis that the “decrease in choice share is lost to niche green brands, not to other mainstream green competitors”.

Drilling down into the data, the scholars reported that using “green cues” had a discernible impact on several issues of importance for brand custodians.

“Although the addition of a green cue increased perceived environmental friendliness, it decreased the two performance-oriented attributes (effectiveness and safety for kids and pets) and had no impact on non-performance attributes (value and ease of use).

In summing up their research, the authors pointed to “evidence that consumers less likely will choose the mainstream target brand when it includes an added green cue on its packaging,” alongside a decline in perceptions of effectiveness.

“This does not seem to be a shift that consumers were aware of (i.e., it was not noted in free cognitive responses) but rather reflects an implicitly held belief,” they wrote.

“It is not a function of shifting importance weights in the decision (i.e., the green cue did not make environmental friendliness more important in the consumers’ decision and thus lead to the defection to the niche competitor).”

Sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by WARC staff